Raising Hell with Facebook

I’ve never turned up in a city knowing as little about it as I did about Helsinki. Capital of Finland…that’s about as much as I knew. Neither A nor I had done much research into it, so we didn’t really know what to expect. So the day before we left I put out a facebook appeal to anyone who knew anything about the place. I received some vague suggestions of viewing the Architecture in Helsinki…but didn’t take them too seriously. Another particularly witty friend suggested I “Raise hell…cause it’s sinki(ng)”. Witty yes, helpful no.

Facebook however did not let me down. It came through in stunning style. My facebook appeal caught the attention of a long-lost London mate. The last I heard of Dave he was working in Bangladesh, so to find out that he was now living Helsinki was a brilliant surprise. Naturally he was up for a beer. And was up for a Friday night beer, of course. After working our way through about three (or four?) pubs whose names I can not remember and then helping ourselves to the beer at Dave and Maria’s flat, we weaved our way back to the hostel sometime around 4am. All up a very fun night.

The city itself – though small – is surprisingly vibrant. It’s also very walkable which made the obligatory sight-seeing very easy. Like most European cities the biggest sights were the churches. There were two main ones – Uspenki Cathedral and Helsinki Cathedral – which were both very nice, and very churchy. 

The Temppeliaukio Church was a little different and was actually pretty cool (as far as churches can be cool). It’s in a hole. Originally the plan was for the church to be built in the traditional style. So they began excavating the site by blowing out large chunks of rock (probably for the foundations?)…and then this was all interrupted by WWII. When they came back to it nearly 20 years later, for whatever reason they decided that the hole in the ground was enough. And they tidied it up a bit and then placed on a giant copper roof, which in itself was quite impressive.

Afterwards, while A went to check out the dinosaurs at the Natural History Museum, I went along to Kiasma (Museum of Moden Art) which was hosting the ARS 2011 exhibition. The five floors of the museum were dedicated to modern African artists, and I have to say it was one of the best exhibitions I’ve ever seen. The work was so different and really moving, and I wish I had room in my backpack for the exhibition calendar.

The island fortress of Suomenlinna was also worth the day trip. On a sunny day it’s a nice enough place for a wander, has ye olde Finnish houses, some gardens and lots of canons. Even better than the canons are the tunnels, which run across the whole island. Long dark winding tunnels that lead to different chambers and lookouts. Long dark winding tunnels that did not seem to have any other tourists in them except for us. To others this might indicate we were not meant to be in them. To us it meant we had the tunnels all to ourselves…yay!

Tunnels aside, you can tell nothing exciting has happened on the island for a while. The timeline on the information boards mentions key dates…Swedes hand Finland to Russia, Crimean War, WWII….all important points in history. Then you scan down to 2004 and apparently the authorities felt the need to mention that in the summer of 2004 some trees died. That’s the most exciting thing that has happened on that island for the last 50 years. Some trees died.

Three days later and it was time to leave. And we waved bye-bye in grand style…aboard the Princess Maria, a grand cruise ship that would be taking us to St Petersburg.

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